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News | July 29, 2021

Defeating malicious cyber actors requires partnerships

Participating on a panel alongside other high-level officials from the federal, state and private sector, National Security Agency Deputy Director George Barnes discussed NSA’s role within the nation’s shared response to future malicious cyber activities during Thursday’s Annapolis Cybersecurity Summit.

“As we grapple with this threat — and a lot of it is foreign originated — it’s our collective responsibility to create a counter pressure there,” said Mr. Barnes, NSA’s highest civilian leader. “We have the President’s support in coming up with ways to do that. At the same time we have to prepare our society to actually limit and endure in this type of a situation, making the impacts of this activity less disruptive to us. Collaboration is really what this is all about today.”

Mr. Barnes’ remarks were part of a summit, hosted by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, highlighting the collaborative efforts to defend America’s critical infrastructure from cybersecurity threats. Taking place inside the Governor’s Reception Room at the Maryland State House, the event featured in-person and virtual attendees, including members of the National Security Council and the House Committee on Homeland Security.

“This is a critical time in our country,” Mr. Barnes said. “Not only do we have traditional threats, but we have these new threats, so we have to change our focus.”

Recent malicious cyber activities attributed by the U.S. Government to Russia and China-backed malicious cyber actors were highlighted as well as ransomware events that have caused major disruptions to energy and other sectors such as food production.

“We have to try not to reward bad behavior. So we must figure creative ways to actually stave off and not reward the perpetrators and at the same time we cannot reward those that harbor these actors' behaviors. And so that is why on the national apparatus, discussions are happening to create some reverse pressure to hold them accountable,” he said.

Joining Mr. Barnes were Anne Neuberger, the White House’s Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber & Emerging Tech; Congressman John Katko, the ranking member on the House Committee on Homeland Security; Herbert Stapleton, the Deputy Assistant Director for the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Cyber Division, and Admiral Dennis Blair, the former United States Director of National Intelligence.

Collaboration and Partnership

According to Mr. Barnes, NSA is shifting the way it approaches cybersecurity in order to partner with private sector to identify malicious cyber actors looking to disrupt government and civil society. Insights are meaningless if they cannot be connected to action, he said.

The focus must be on malicious cyber activity and holding adversaries accountable.

“Our adversaries are continuously increasing their scope, scale, and sophistication,” said Rob Joyce, NSA’s Cybersecurity Director, who attended the event. “To maintain our competitive edge, we must work together to adapt and innovate.” 

Mr. Barnes highlighted joint-government issued cybersecurity advisories and NSA’s recently established Cybersecurity Collaboration Center — a public campus near the NSA’s headquarters outside Washington that is open for government and public cybersecurity experts to share insight — as examples of how NSA is refining the way it carries out its mission.

“At the center of NSA’s information sharing effort is the Cybersecurity Collaboration Center, created to partner on foreign cyber threats and to better understand vulnerabilities to critical systems,” said Morgan Adamski, Chief of the Cybersecurity Collaboration, who also attended the event. “Working together with industry, we jointly develop mitigation guidance to protect against the most sophisticated threats.”